Cryopreservation—vital to research, assisted reproduction—turns 40

Date: June 21, 2012
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Bar Harbor, Maine—Cryopreservation is the process of freezing living cells so they can be stored without damage and studied years, or even centuries, later. The first mice from cryopreserved embryos were born forty years ago this month at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, the result of work by Peter Mazur, Stanley Leibo and David Whittingham. 

Leibo says, “The cryopreservation of embryos has had a profound effect on the field of assisted reproduction in laboratory, domestic and wild animals as well as humans.” He notes that tens of thousands of children have been born from frozen embryos.

Jackson Professor Emeritus Larry Mobraaten, Ph.D., adds, “Moreover, the ability to bank frozen embryos for research animals has been an invaluable service to worldwide scientific community. For example, cancer researchers Neal Copeland and Nancy Jenkins worked out the molecular biology of the agouti locus thanks to a mouse strain that was only available in cryopreserved form from the Jackson repository.”

Today about 3.9 million mouse embryos are stored in The Jackson Laboratory’s vast biobank, representing thousands of strains. Embryos from strains cryopreserved for at least 30 years are still being requested and are still viable.

Rob Taft, Ph.D., Jackson’s scientific director of reproductive sciences, says, “Cryopreserving a strain is relatively inexpensive, as is storing cryopreserved embryos in liquid nitrogen at -196°C.  Once cryopreserved, strains are protected from loss and breeding of infrequently used strains can be discontinued, saving money and reducing the number of animals used in research.” 

This year is also the 25th anniversary of the cryopreservation course at The Jackson Laboratory.  Mobraaten and Leibo launched the first Short Course in Cryopreservation of Mouse Germplasm in 1988, and Leibo and Taft continue to teach the course.

Over the past quarter-century, hundreds of students have participated in this program, and graduates have set up active cryopreservation programs in academic and independent biomedical research laboratories throughout the United States and around the world.

“These programs likely save research organizations many tens of millions of dollars each year in operating costs, reduce animal usage and prevent the loss of irreplaceable research resources,” Taft says.


Joyce Peterson, 207-288-6058, The Jackson Laboratory

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